Pa. inmates charged with eating from utensils used to prepare employees' food

The alleged incident has led prison officials to change how meals are prepared and served to employees who work the night shift


By Mark Pesto
The Tribune-Democrat

EBENSBURG, Pa. — Two current or former Cambria County Prison inmates are facing assault charges after being accused of licking or eating from utensils they were using to prepare food for prison employees.

The alleged incident has led prison officials to change how meals are prepared and served to employees who work the night shift, Warden Christian Smith said during Wednesday’s meeting of the Cambria County Prison Board.

Gavin Terrance Hopkins, 18, formerly of Philadelphia, and Lawrence J. Williams, 27, of Johnstown, were working without supervision in the prison’s kitchen at around 1:30 a.m. May 30 when the acts for which they were charged were allegedly recorded on surveillance video.

According to criminal complaints against the pair, a prison employee was reviewing the video when he saw Hopkins bring a spatula to his mouth, lick it, eat from it and put it back into the food that was being prepared. Hopkins was also allegedly seen on the video spraying cleaning solution “near and possibly into” a pot of cheese sauce, then mixing macaroni and cheese with his hands while wearing the same gloves he used to spray the cleaning solution.

The video also showed Williams eating with a spoon from a serving bowl, then putting the spoon back into the bowl, according to the complaints.

“We’ve always served meals buffet-style to all three shifts,” Smith said during Wednesday’s meeting, “and the kitchen crew inmates prepare them. The third shift crew didn’t have a supervisor or an officer in there. It was the more trusted trusty inmates that were preparing the food.”

Smith said that, after Hopkins’ and Williams’ alleged actions were discovered, the union that represents the prison’s corrections officers filed a grievance concerning how meals are prepared for employees working during the third shift, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. As a result, meals for those employees will now be pre-packaged, rather than buffet-style, he said.

Hopkins and Williams have each been charged with two counts of aggravated assault and one count each of aggravated harassment by prisoner, simple assault and reckless endangerment, court records indicate. The charges against them were bound over to court on June 23 after a preliminary hearing before District Judge Frederick Creany, of Ebensburg.

Hopkins was accused of robbing a Johnstown AutoZone store on Aug. 14.

Court records indicate that he pleaded guilty in that case to counts of robbery and aggravated assault and was sentenced on June 22 to 18 to

84 months in prison. He is still an inmate at Cambria County Prison, according to court records.

Williams had been accused of breaking into a Johnstown home in January and kicking a woman, then fighting with police who arrested him. Court records indicate that he pleaded guilty on June 2 to resisting arrest and possession of marijuana, was sentenced to 1 to 23 months in jail and received parole. He is free on bail on the new charges against him, according to court records.

Also during Wednesday’s meeting of the prison board, Smith said that there are still no positive cases of COVID-19 at the prison. Twenty inmates have tested negative for the virus, he added.

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©2020 The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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